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Mailbag: The man behind the man

LAS VEGAS – Burt Watson's life changed eight years ago when he was in Las Vegas on a business trip and a friend wanted to introduce him to someone. Watson had been involved in boxing for decades and had seen and heard a lot.

The man he was introduced to was planning to put on fights. Watson took an immediate liking to him.

"He was very quiet and didn't have a lot to say, but he had a nice smile and a friendly handshake and I had a good feeling about him right away," Watson said.

The man Watson met was Dana White, the Ultimate Fighting Championship's president, who hired him to be the UFC's site coordinator. A boxing lifer who once managed former heavyweight champion Joe Frazier, the easy-going Watson knew nothing about mixed martial arts when he accepted the job.

"Basically, what I knew about it was I'd heard of kung fu fighting," Watson said. "I'd been a fan of Bruce Lee, but pretty much, I didn't know what it was."

There are a lot of persons responsible for the UFC's meteoric rise to the top of the combat sports heap, but the 60-year-old Philadelphian deserves as much credit as anyone.

Watson's job isn't easily described, but if it has to do with making the fighters comfortable and helping the show come off well for the fans, then Watson likely has a big hand in it.

"My job is to create a situation for the fighters and their camps where there is a comfort level that they will have everything they need and that they don't have to worry about anything other than going out and kicking some butt," Watson said. "When they get to the airport, they have someone there to pick them up and get them to their hotel room. They have someone who will help them to cut weight, to provide them with good workout rooms that are clean and have everything they need.

"If a fighter needs a cup, I have to be able to turn around and grab one out of my bag. If he tells me he has a headache, I have to get the right doctor on the phone so that whatever he takes to help him will be something that is all right with the [athletic commission]."

Watson began working for the company at UFC 31 and is proud that in his eight years, only a small number of fighters in his recollection have ever missed weight and no fight was ever canceled because of it.

When the fighters arrive at the hotel, the first thing they're required to do is meet Watson. He weighs them immediately, and then tells them where the sauna and treadmill are in case they need to use them.

During the week, he's almost like a fighter's valet. He'll do whatever he can to put the fighter at ease.

He's earned the full support of White, with whom he's developed a close relationship. White hired him in 2001 and let him do the job the way he saw fit. Watson is one of the key reasons why UFC shows are so professionally produced and the pace is so crisp.

"The easiest way to minimize my effectiveness is to tell me how to do my job," Watson said. "The thing about Dana, he's so easy to work for. He has an idea of what he wants, but he hires good people and lets them do their jobs. When he hired me, he just told me, 'Burt, I want you to do what you do best.' He's pretty much left me alone to do my job since then."

Watson calls White the UFC's franchise player and said White is the man who has turned the UFC into a viable entity.

"In every major sport, there is a guy who they take and slap the franchise tag on him," Watson said. "Dana is the franchise player for the UFC. He's the one who makes it happen and who's gotten it to the next level. It takes a certain kind of person to take a team to the next level and win a championship and right now, the UFC is winning a championship and no one is more responsible than Dana.

"Eight years ago, could I have seen this thing coming or predicted the UFC would be as big as it has gotten? No. But I could see it was going to make a lot of progress because of Dana and his passion and the way he was running this. Even in those early days, I knew Dana would so something special with this."

With that, it's time to delve into the mailbag. I'd like to remind you that you can follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/kevini and said me questions or comments to be used in the mailbag. I will post updates through UFC 98 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Saturday.

My answers are in italics.

LASHLEY-COOK A WORK?

What is your thought on the Bobby Lashley-Mike Cook fight on Friday at the Maximum Fighting Championship? I've watched the video a couple of times, and it looks fishy (maybe a work on Mike's part). Bobby didn't have the choke secured and Mike goes limp then starts kicking like a fish. Some friends agree that the fight looks like a work. What are your thoughts on it?

Lorenzo
Arizona

I don't think it was a fix and I saw nothing in the video that would indicate to me that it was. Cook ducked to get away from a Lashley right hand and his head was there for Lashley. Lashley slapped on the guillotine and won the fight quickly. I saw nothing unusual.


BEST TUF EVER

Which season of "The Ultimate Fighter" do you think supplied the UFC with the best talent? It might make an interesting article ranking the seasons based on the fighters they produced.

Colin A.
Antioch, Ill.

That's a great question, Colin, but I think the answer is obvious: Season 1. From that year, the UFC landed Forrest Griffin, Kenny Florian, Diego Sanchez, Josh Koscheck, Stephan Bonnar, Mike Swick, Chris Leben and Nathan Quarry, all of whom are still regulars. Griffin won a title, Florian is fighting for one at UFC 101 and the other guys are all very solid competitors. I'd rank Season 2 as No. 2, given it produced Rashad Evans, Keith Jardine, Joe "Daddy" Stevenson, Luke Cummo, Marcus Davis, Josh Burkman, Melvin Guillard and Jorge Gurgel.


MISSING MIR

In your recent article about Pat Barry, you mentioned top heavyweight fighters and you didn't mention Frank Mir. How can you even talk about the heavyweight division and not mention him? I know it's my opinion, but now that Mir has gotten serious about becoming a better all-around fighter, I think he'll become the best all-around fighter in that class. It will show in his rematch with Brock Lesnar at UFC 100. Mir was one of the best before he got serious. Now that he is a well-conditioned fighter with better standup, forget about it!

Lee M.
Destin, Fla.

I was referencing newcomers to the UFC when I mentioned Brock Lesnar, Cain Velasquez and Shane Carwin, among others, in that piece. Mir is obviously an exceptional fighter and I only excluded him because he's been with the company a long time. But I think ultimately the best all-around fighter is going to be Velasquez.


AGE GROUPS FOR MMA

Do you see MMA ever adopting age classes in addition to weight classes? Has this ever been discussed by major fighting organizations? I think it's a timely topic considering Chuck Liddell's probable exit from MMA. There is no doubt he would dominate a 40-year-old age class.

Travis S.
Indianapolis

I don't think it will ever happen. People want to see the best fight the best. There aren't a lot of quality 40-plus fighters and I don't think there ever will be enough to do that. Guys like Randy Couture, who is still a quality fighter at 45, don't want to be facing lesser competition. If they're going to remain active, they want to fight the best and generally, that's going to be someone under 40.


BARRY SHOULD DROP

Pat Barry gets irritated when people say he should go to light heavyweight because he knows it's true. After he loses his first two heavyweight fights, he'll be a great light heavyweight.

Stephen C.
San Antonio

Barry knows his body better than you or I. He should fight where he's comfortable and he's comfortable at heavyweight.


MATCHMAKING ISSUES

I couldn't help but notice your comments about Joe Silva, the matchmaker for the UFC. I understand the difficulty of matching fighters while keeping the entertainment aspect alive and keeping true MMA fans/practitioners happy. This was apparent when Quinton "Rampage" Jackson was chosen over Lyoto Machida to fight Rashad Evans. I'm glad that Evans and Machida are fighting, but this should have been the first choice. Where do you stand on moneymaking and politics vs. MMA bouts that fans want and deserve to see? Where do you think the sport of MMA is going? Will the effects of matchmaking and politics ruin this spiritual and respected sport, like it did boxing?

Mario
Phoenix

In my mind, here's the situation: You could debate whether Jackson or Machida was more deserving. Jackson is the former champion who lost a very close and controversial decision. He has had two quality wins since losing the belt and he's one of the most popular fighters in the world. Machida is obviously undefeated and has beaten many quality opponents. Either would have been a good choice. I have no problem under that circumstance with the UFC taking the fight that would have made the most money. That's nowhere near what you see in boxing, where fighters who aren't worthy in any sense get title shots and quality fighters are shunted aside.